IN the past few days, various pieces of nastiness have floated to the surface of British life. I don’t mean Nigel Farage and his inflammatory speeches: he’s always doing that and we expect nothing less.
No; soon after the UK’s decision to quit the European Union was announced, examples of the ugly side of British life began to bubble up through the post-vote sludge.
Polish families in Cambridgeshire had cards pushed through their doors telling them to go home (text helpfully printed in English and Polish). More examples of similarly sickening behaviour emerged via Facebook, snapshots which suggest that the post-Brexit mood is going to turn nasty, and may already have done so.
One post from Channel 4 News showed commuters on a tram in Manchester, that big, diverse, decent-hearted city of millions. The tram is crowded and a tall man with a ponytail has attracted the attention of a runty yob.
The youth shouts, “I’ll waste you, bro”. The man asks: “How old are you?” The yob says: “Don’t even talk to me – you’re a dirty little immigrant. . .” (his version contained more f-words than mine). . .”get back to Africa!”
The man, who sounds American, says: “You are very ignorant – you’re not very intelligent, do you know that?”
The dim lump of Mancunian humanity starts chanting: “Get of the tram! Get off the tram!” Then this genetic throwback and his equally dumb pal push down the tram and start flicking beer from bottles at the man.
A woman passenger pleads, “There’s a baby here. There’s no need for that. There’s absolutely no need for that.”
The victim angrily squares up, muttering: “Seven years in the military. . .” Others around counsel him ‘It’s not worth it’.
The yobs either leave the tram or are pushed off, amid reassuring cries of “Disgrace!” One woman says something poetic in her anger: “To England, you are a disgrace.”
Another woman who filmed the clip told Channel 4 News how scared she was; who could blame her? But her courage in capturing a sorry incident illustrates how careful we have to be right now.
Another post – from the excellent James O’Brien on LBC – shows him taking a call from a German woman who has lived in Britain for 43 years and relates, heartbreakingly, how she has been receiving abuse since the vote.
Amnesty UK reports a 57 per cent rise in reports of racist incidents, with director Kate Allen saying: “Some people now feel licensed to express racist views in a way we haven’t seen for decades. The referendum campaign was marked by divisive, xenophobic rhetoric as well as a failure among political leaders to condemn it. We are now reaping the referendum rhetoric whirlwind.”
That whirlwind blew into Leeds; a Polish shopkeeper was reported to have been attacked and told to ‘go back to your country’. Further examples lobbed into the national dartboard of xenophobia include a Muslim schoolgirl reportedly been cornered by a rabble who said, “Get out, we voted leave!” and Eastern Europeans allegedly stopped from using the Underground with shouts of, “Go back to your own country!” Right-wing protestors in Newcastle apparently carried placards urging the country: ‘Start repatriation’.
Such examples should depress the hell out of us. They were not caused by the vote to leave: such attitudes already existed below the skin like incipient boils. But in the post-Brexit heat, too many people feel free to scratch away at the hate.
As a proud but disillusioned member of the 48 per cent, I deplore the snapshot of our country these incidents give. Of course, most of those who voted Leave will deplore such views. But some do not. And that should worry us. It should make us angry.
We should react as the man on the Manchester tram and his fellow commuters reacted. We should adopt a woman’s words of condemnation of two young thugs and adopt them as a slogan for a Worrying Age: “To England, you are a disgrace.”